All it takes is 3 chords and a dream!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Review: Earl J. Rivard - Underground Railroad

Earl J. Rivard - Underground Railroad
2010, Earl J. Rivard

Earl J. Rivard, III has built a life by making the most of his gifts and not allowing roadblocks to stop him from achieving his dreams. The Almeda, California resident has become a top-notch, highly courted performer in California in spite of being blinded and partially paralyzed as an infant by a drunk driver. Nevertheless, Rivard showed a musical proclivity from the age of three. His father, Earl J. Rivard, Jr. took his son under his wing, playing with Earl III until it became clear that Earl III had blossomed. Singing in a wonderfully soulful voice in English, Spanish and Italian, Rivard breaks down barriers for others as easily as he has for himself. Whether singing rock n roll, soul or troubadour folk, Rivard commands attention. Rivard will soon release his sophomore album, Underground Railroad, a stunning testament to perseverance.

Underground Railroad opens with the title track, a soulful and politically charged missive in song taking American immigration policy to task. Rivard calls for the creation of an underground network to help those crossing from Mexico into the US to circumvent US policy, singing passionately and with conviction. “Underground Railroad” perhaps ignores the fact that such networks already exist and continuously do battle with the limits that are in place. Musically, the song is well written, and for a passion perspective it’s convincing, but the inattention to detail makes the song less compelling. “Till I Met You” is a heartfelt but languid ballad that is pretty but lacking a bit in energy. Rivard shows two distinct sides here: In his upper range he could almost pass for a soulful Garth Brooks, but in his lower range he sounds a great deal like Taye Diggs.

“Coldest Place” is a sorrowful ballad that confirms Rivard’s weakness. The man has an amazing voice, but on the more lyric vocal parts he tends at times to lose the energy that sustains such songs, particularly on long, slow passages. “The Sun Finally Rose” finds Rivard turning the corner with a jubilant celebration of finding love after heartache. Delivered as a pop/Americana tune, “The Sun Finally Rose” is great musical poetry. On “Nobody Knows”, Rivard offers a theatrical presentation of a song about a runaway. You’ll swear this song must have come from some obscure but promising off-Broadway musical, and Rivard’s vocal reading is impressive beyond words.

“Magdalena” finds Rivard dealing in Spanish, and offering up guitar work that’s bound to draw comparisons to the great Carlos Santana. Wit shines through “Unfinished Songs”, a tongue-in-cheek paean to anyone who’s ever been or tried to be a songwriter. The song is full of snarky touches from the doo-wop background singers to the somewhat yet predictable yet still amusing ending. Rivard stakes his reputation on being something of a troubadour, and lives up to the billing on “Lady, Sweet Lady”. Sounding like an arrangement that might have originated in Shakespeare’s time, “Lady, Sweet Lady” is a lovely tune that firmly establishes not only Rivard’s versatility as a performer but also his talent as a songwriter.

“This Time Around” is an opportunistic love song done in an Americana/rock blend. It’s a classic tune about making the best of a second chance no matter the cost. “This Time Around” might be the finest example of songwriting on Underground Railroad. Rivard channels the spirit of Dan Fogelberg on Yours Eternally, a song all about the fragility of love. The gorgeous melody and arrangement are matched only by the prescience of Rivard’s lyrics and his mesmerizing voice. Rivard follows this up with “Yours Eternally”, which seems likely to be on the list of most-used first dance songs if Rivard ever gets his big break. This is a wow moment. Underground Railroad closes out with a radio edit of the title track.

It’s hard to imagine how Earl J. Rivard, III isn’t a household name already. What seems very likely, however, is that he one day will be. Whatever else you might have to say about Earl J. Rivard, it’s very clear that any deficits he may have suffered throughout his life seem small compared to the magnitude of both his voice and talent as a songwriter. Underground Railroad is a thrilling experience, an album you will cherish both in spite of and for its minor flaws. When Rivard sings, the angels stop to listen. You will too.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Earl J. Rivard at or Underground Railroad is due for release in the Spring of 2010. Keep checking Rivard's website for update release information and availability.

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